As lockdown restrictions ease in the UK, with hospitality businesses such as restaurants, pubs, bars, and cafes now able to reopen for indoor drinking and dining, small dinner parties are also permitted. As of Monday 17th May, groups of six or two households are able to meet indoors, providing an ideal opportunity to show off those new cooking skills picked up over various states of lockdown. Of all the impressive dinner party dishes, and there are many, duck tends to feature in most of my favourites. Pan-seared duck breast is a good, arguably healthier, use of the bird, but there’s nothing quite like duck confit – considered one of the finest French dishes, and for good reason.
A dish that’s made across France, duck confit (or canard de confit) is a particular specialty of Gascony. According to the families perpetuating the tradition of duck confit, all of the duck’s pieces are used to produce the meal, with each element having its own specific use in traditional cooking. Duck legs are the most popular choice for modern duck confit, however. To produce the dish, a centuries-old process of preservation dates back to a time long before refrigerators were invented. Here, salt and herbs are used to cure the duck, typically for anywhere between 12-36 hours. Once cured, the salt and herbs are washed off before the meat is patted dry then slowly cooked in its own fat. The entire process takes time, but the final result’s flavour is worth every second of cooking, which is mostly inactive. It just requires a bit of planning.
As well as lasting for around one month when cooled and stored, covered in its fat, duck confit is a remarkably versatile dish, and the leftover fat demands to be reserved and used for future cooking. Crispy sautéed potatoes are a perfect accompaniment to duck confit, as is a simple bitter leaf salad. This duck confit recipe makes enough for six people, but can easily be scaled up or down accordingly, served with braised red cabbage and pear.
- 6 duck legs
- 1.5 kg duck fat
- 8 tbsp fine salt
- A few sprigs rosemary
- A few sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 orange zest only
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 cinnamon stick
For the braised red cabbage and pear
- 1 large red cabbage quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
- 1 large onion finely sliced
- 4 pears quartered, cored, and sliced
- 200 ml red wine
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- On the day before serving, combine the salt, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, orange zest, cinnamon stick, and peppercorns in a large tray or bowl.
- Prick the skin of the duck legs with a fork or skewer and place skin-side down in the salt mixture, and fully submerge. Cover or transfer to a zip-lock bag and refrigerate for at least 12 hours (up to 36 hours).
- Once cured, rinse the curing mixture off of the duck legs and pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 120C/Gas ½.
- In a casserole or oven-proof saucepan, melt the duck fat and gently add the duck legs to the pan with the garlic cloves. Bring to a simmer and transfer to the oven.
- Cook for 3-4 hours until the meat is tender and the duck is well-coloured. If need be, transfer the duck legs to a baking tray and crisp up the skin in the oven at 200C/Gas 6 for approximately 30 minutes, keeping an eye on the duck, to prevent it from burning.
- For the braised red cabbage and pear
- While the duck is cooking, core and thinly slice the red cabbage and slice the onion. Add to a large saucepan with the wine, cinnamon, star anise, sugar, and vinegar.
- Bring to the boil and cover the pan. Simmer the cabbage for one hour. Add a splash of water if necessary.
- Add the pear to the pan and simmer for another hour. Add water if the cabbage dries out while cooking. Strain (if necessary), season with a generous pinch of salt, and serve alongside the duck confit.